Who Was Isaac Newton?

If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.

- Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke (1676)

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Newton’s Laws of Motion. In 1687 Isaac Newton attempted to explain the movements of everything in the universe, from a pea rolling on a plate to the position of the planets. It was a brilliant, vaultingly ambitious and fiendishly complex task; it took him three sentences. These are the three laws of motion with which Newton founded the discipline of classical mechanics and conjoined a series of concepts - inertia, acceleration, force, momentum and mass - by which we still describe the movement of things today. Newton’s laws have been refined over the years – most famously by Einstein - but they were still good enough, 282 years after they were published, to put Neil Armstrong on the Moon.

Listen to the In Our Time episode on The Laws of Motion

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Nearly three hundred years since his death, Isaac Newton is as much a myth as a man. The mythical Newton abounds in contradictions; he is a semi-divine genius and a mad alchemist, a somber and solitary thinker and a passionate religious heretic. Myths usually have an element of truth to them but how many Newtonian varieties are true? Here are ten of the most common, debunked or confirmed by the evidence of his own private papers, kept hidden for centuries and now freely available online...

Continue reading Sarah Dry's article: True or false? Ten myths about Isaac Newton

Further Reading

Isaac Newton (1642–1727) is best known for having invented the calculus in the mid to late 1660s (most of a decade before Leibniz did so independently, and ultimately more influentially) and for having formulated the theory of universal gravity — the latter in his Principia, the single most important work in the transformation of early modern natural philosophy into modern physical science. Yet he also made major discoveries in optics beginning in the mid-1660s and reaching across four decades; and during the course of his 60 years of intense intellectual activity he put no less effort into chemical and alchemical research and into theology and biblical studies than he put into mathematics and physics. He became a dominant figure in Britain almost immediately following publication of his Principia in 1687, with the consequence that “Newtonianism” of one form or another had become firmly rooted there within the first decade of the eighteenth century. His influence on the continent, however, was delayed by the strong opposition to his theory of gravity expressed by such leading figures as Christiaan Huygens and Leibniz, both of whom saw the theory as invoking an occult power of action at a distance in the absence of Newton's having proposed a contact mechanism by means of which forces of gravity could act. As the promise of the theory of gravity became increasingly substantiated, starting in the late 1730s but especially during the 1740s and 1750s, Newton became an equally dominant figure on the continent, and “Newtonianism,” though perhaps in more guarded forms, flourished there as well. What physics textbooks now refer to as “Newtonian mechanics” and “Newtonian science” consists mostly of results achieved on the continent between 1740 and 1800...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Isaac Newton

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Related Topics

If you’re interested in Isaac Newton, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Laws of Nature | Science

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